Build Your Own Escape Room at Home

Thanks to Covid and the coming winter months, the idea of being stuck inside is frustrating for everyone. After watching re-runs of Friends, playing Monopoly, and building Lego, you might be feeling a bit stuck with how to fill your time. Let's have a look at a new fun medium, escape room games, and see how we can fit these into our home setting.

Escape room games have become the new craze for both personal players and for corporations to offer as team-building exercises. But rather than go off to a remote location, let's see how we can devise an escape room game here at home. To get started, here are some basic pointers:

1. Stick to the absolute basics and always keep things simple

A traditional escape room will use any number of props, often with many being quite elaborate. But if you're doing this in your own home, then we suggest using just a few key elements so things don't get overly complicated. You'll need to create a good background story to give your game some context and depth. The game needs a purpose and the players will need a clear goal to strive towards. Then you'll need to place the obstacles like puzzles and things that need to be "unlocked". Finally, to add a sense of urgency, you'll be needing a clock to count down the time remaining.

2. Create a strong narrative

It's a mistake to think that you need extravagant props and puzzles to make your escape room interesting. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The most important aspect to get you started is the narrative. A compelling storyline will do wonders for charging the atmosphere and getting the players psyched up. It doesn't matter whether you're breaking out of prison or being hunted by flesh-eating zombies, it's the story that brings everything to life. Once you have your narrative, then the puzzle will come more easily.

3. Create obstacles

It's not a bad way of looking at an escape room as a glorified obstacle course. Except in this takes it's in your home. So, you could simply lock a room in the house and hide the key. Likewise, you could lock the keys in a suitcase that has a combination lock. Jumping into the 21st century, you could have information stored on an encrypted USB drive. A good idea to let the players know what is part of the game, and what is not, is to print up some logos which you then attach to relevant items. Once labeled, you can hide them to your heart's content.

4. Hide numbers for "codes" in the form of riddles

You want to be able to hide numbers and number riddles in plain sight. A good example is to hide numbers within words. A good example would be the word "Celebrated" but swap out the "a" for a "4". Another is to create a riddle where a word ends in an "s", but the following word is "even", thus making the word "seven" together. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

5. Make sure you can come to the rescue

Just like a real-life escape room has a games master who's there to help you out should you get stuck, then it's a good idea to offer the same help in your home game. You could leave a phone or Ipad in the same room as the players. This will allow a player to ask for a hint (you must never give a direct answer as this will take all the effort out of the game).

6. Don't try and invent complex new puzzles from scratch

There's no need to re-invent the wheel. We suggest using existing games as then you can be certain that they'll work. It's very frustrating to play an escape room game with games that are not 100% tried and tested. You can find lots of great games that are guaranteed to work with a quick Google Search.

7. Don't make the game too long or elaborate

Keep in mind that the idea behind the games is that the players have a good time. It's not for you to show off your skills at developing complicated games. If the games are too long, well, expect people to start complaining that they're bored. A regular game period of one hour is enough. Trying to solve puzzles and riddles for longer is going to be tiring and suck the fun element out of the game. Also, be sure that you tailor the number of games to the number of players. There must be enough puzzles to keep everyone occupied.

The narrative must play up the time factor. The fact that the clock is ticking down will help ensure that players don't just spend the game time chatting. By adding pressure, you should be able to keep their focus on finding the clues. A good idea is to walk through the game, with a clock, once you've set it up. Play all the puzzles and find all the clues and see how long it takes you. You want the game to run between 45 - 60 minutes. If any factors in the game make it either too short or conversely, too long, then be sure to remove them before the games commence. Remember that if the overall game is too short, then it will not leave enough time for all the clues to be found. Try and find the "sweet spot" that'll give the players the best experience.